Port Vale 0 Bradford City 2
Nobody seems quite sure how far City can go this season, least of all the players.
Riding high in the upper echelons of League Two, Phil Parkinson’s men again proved their mettle in the cup competitions – where they remain unbeaten all season.
Going to deepest, darkest Burslem on a bitterly cold December night can test the soul.
You need a special kind of spirit.
You have to be able to call on a collective desire.
Parkinson’s troops were not found wanting.
They matched a Port Vale side sitting second in League Two during the opening 45 minutes and then hit them with two vicious sucker-punches shortly after the break.
First Ritchie Jones rifled home a sweet low strike within a minute of the resumption and Craig Forsyth then showed some similar quality to dispatch another fine finish.
At the final whistle, 120 travelling Bantams fanatics saluted their team.
And why not?
City had ran out deserved and ultimately comfortable victors.
They are now just two rounds away from the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at Wembley on April 7.
Parkinson himself admitted earlier this week that promotion is the priority for City this season.
Yet last night’s success was surely further evidence of the progress that has been made under his tenure.
He made five changes from the side which drew with Brentford in the FA Cup on Friday night.
Still City had enough to conquer a Port Vale side who had pilfered three precious League Two points at Valley Parade earlier in the season.
And what a marathon campaign it is turning out to be.
Last night’s match was City’s 29th in all competitions.
It was little surprise then that Parkinson rang the changes.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was recalled at the expense of Matt Duke in between the posts and excelled, making several smart saves throughout.
There were also starts for Tom Naylor, Carl McHugh, Forsyth and Jones.
On-loan Watford man Forsyth scored his first goal for the club and Jones capped an industrious display with his first of the season.
All 14 players used played their part.
Alan Connell and Garry Thompson posed a constant threat and City almost led inside the second minute from a free-kick.
Connell was afforded the opportunity to strike the ball from 25 yards but Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal made a save low to his left to smother the danger.
McLaughlin was keen to make the most of his opportunity and he duly did moments later, making a fine one-handed save to keep out a firm header from a Vale attacker.
Forsyth emerged as a key attacking threat on the left flank and on-loan West Ham rookie Blair Turgott did likewise on the opposite wing.
Forsyth blazed wide with a right-foot shot from eight yards out after a delightful run and low cross from Turgott Forsyth then showed his worth at the other end of the field, clearing a dangerous low cross from the lively Ashley Vincent after Calvin Andrew sent him clear inside the left channel.
City then cut apart the Vale defence as Connell showed intelligence to slip in Thompson.
He found Forsyth, whose shot was blocked, before he then blazed over after excellent work from Ritchie Jones to set him clear.
In fairness to Vale, the sides were well matched but City looked more potent in attack and Thompson showed some neat skill to outfox a Vale defender before firing a shot straight at Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal.
But within seconds of the resumption, Connell fed Thompson inside the left channel and he superbly found Jones advancing at pace on the edge of Vale’s 18-yard box.
Jones superbly fired home a low right-footed shot which fizzed past Neal and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Nine minutes later Vale were finished.
Thompson was the provider again, creating the space inside the 18-yard box to find Forsyth, who took a touch before lashing the ball past a helpless Neal.
Chances began to fall Vale’s way but McLaughlin was equal to everything that was thrown at him.
And the strength of City’s bench said much for the squad that Parkinson has assembled.
He was able to bring on James Hanson, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle during the second half.
Nahki Wells remained on the bench. He was not needed. That said everything.